School staff must be vaccinated or tested weekly, says Hochul

— From the Albany County dashboard
The number of daily COVID-19 cases in Albany County now is higher than in April 2020 when nonessential businesses were under lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

ALBANY COUNTY — As Albany County experienced its fourth COVID-19 death this week — a woman in her fifties — Governor Kathy Hochul was in Buffalo, her home turf, announcing plans for unvaccinated school staff to be tested weekly and also plans to administer booster shots through local health departments.

Her approach was a marked departure from that of Andrew Cuomo whom she replaced last Tuesday.

“I will not be micromanaging, but I’ll be giving guidance based on your input,” she told the local health leaders she said she had been in the trenches with, dealing with the pandemic as lieutenant governor.

“I don’t have the same executive power that was in place last year,” Hochul noted. Cuomo’s emergency executive power had ended in June.

If she had that power, Hochul said, she would require all school staff to be vaccinated.

“We can no longer hemorrhage the education of our children,” said Hochul. “It has to stop and it has to stop this fall.”

Instead, Hochul said, anyone who enters a school building will have to be vaccinated or undergo mandatory testing. “We’re in the process of getting legal clearance for that as I speak,” she said of the mandatory testing.

Hochul said that $585 million in federal funds will be used for school testing programs.

She also noted the requirement that everyone in school wear a mask. “I’m not leaving open-ended mandates,” Hochul said.

Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, had issued a determination letter on Friday, Aug. 27, that said the Delta variant is “approximately twice as transmissible as the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Since early July, cases have risen 10-fold, and 95 percent of sequenced recent positives in New York State were the Delta variant.”

Zucker’s letter goes on to say that places, like schools and health-care facilities, pose increased challenges and urgency for controlling the spread of this disease because residents are more vulnerable or, like children, cannot be vaccinated.

Zucker goes on to cite a number of studies showing the effectiveness of masks in stemming the spread of the virus. He then lists facilities where mask requirements are being imposed: in health-care settings, in adult-care facilities, in correctional facilities and detention centers, in homeless shelters, in public-transportation conveyances, and in schools for prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Hochul said on Tuesday that, when it comes to mask-wearing in schools, she would be “very flexible in allowing localities to talk to me about what’s happening on the ground in their communities. So this while it’s a universal imposition, but it does not have to be universal lifting at the same time.”

Hochul also said her administration will explore expanding vaccine mandates — not test-outs — to all state-regulated facilities and congregate facilities. Currently, the mandate applies just to state facilities.

Finally, Hochul announced that booster shots will be administered by local health departments at mass vaccination sites. The Biden administration has called for people who received messenger RNA vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — to get a third shot eight months after their second shot.

Hochul said $65 million will be made available to set up the clinics for administering booster shots.

“You tell me what you need, and we'll make sure that there’s funding available,” she said.

Explaining her “different philosophy” to the hometown crowd at the University at Buffalo’s medical school, Hochul said, “One of the takeaways I had from being in the trenches with you is that I understand there is a role for state government and there’s a role for local governments, and I’m prepared to transition quickly as we are now fighting this new wave, this Delta variant, which is brutal and people who are not vaccinated will absolutely succumb to this because it is raging.”


Child-care support

Later in the day, Hochul announced that — less than one month since applications opened — $89 million in child care provider stabilization grant funds have been disbursed.

More than 10,600 of New York State's 18,000 eligible child-care providers have applied for Child Care Stabilization Grant funding

So far, child-care providers have requested $585 million of the available $1.1 billion in federal funding. The grants directly benefit child-care providers and are meant to stabilize an industry that was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services is administering the funds.

To be eligible for a grant, programs must have been open and serving children in person as of March 11, 2021, and open and available to provide in-person services on the date they apply for the grant. This includes child care providers that are “open” and staffed to provide in-person care even if there are no children currently enrolled.


Video series

The state’s Office of Mental Health on Tuesday launched a series of “Back to School 2021” videos to help and support parents, caregivers, and students as they prepare for the new school year.

The video topics include: the impact the pandemic has had on children and adolescents; ways to support yourself and others; how to get help when you need it; age-specific information on promoting mental wellness in children — from birth to young adulthood; and an overview of the Crisis Text Line, a national, text-based crisis counselor service.

The health department launched the Emotional Support Helpline in March 2020 as part of the agency’s COVID-19 response and to date the line has handled 70,000 calls and provided free, confidential, and anonymous assistance to New Yorkers across the state.

Newest numbers

On Tuesday morning, in his daily press release on the coronavirus, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported that, of the 27 county residents currently hospitalized, 44 percent are fully vaccinated, 4 percent are partially vaccinated, and 52 percent are not vaccinated.

The death on Monday of the woman in her fifties brings the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 393.

McCoy reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 and said there are now 494 active cases in the county, up from 472 on Monday. The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 780 from 772.

Albany County’s most recent seven-day average of percent positive rates is now up to 5.0 percent, and the Capital Region’s rate is still at 4.6 percent.

The CDC on Tuesday continued to label Albany County, New York State, and the entire United States as having a high rate of community transmission, meaning masks should be worn in public indoors regardless of vaccination status.

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